The “Demands” of Discipline

In my last post, readers were invited to consider their right and responsibility to deny requests children make when those requests are not healthy for the child or for others. Being unable to deny children what they demand can create high levels of overindulgence, which ultimately can become quite toxic for a child’s emotional and moral growth. This often leads to a plethora of negative outcomes, sometimes all the way through adulthood.

Avoiding negative outcomes and overindulgence

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and GrandmotherDevelopment

In addition to knowing when and how to deny a child something (“No you may not do that!” “No you may not have that!”), effective parenting also involves accepting another disciplinary responsibility, demanding certain things of  children.

Demanding can seem like a harsh, authoritarian behavior.

Demanding as a misuse of a parent’s power, that comes from a rigid and punitive belief system, certainly can be emotionally and relationally damaging to children. Many parenting experts look to the research of Diane Baumrind who, in the 1980s, identified the four typical categories of parenting: Authoritarian, Neglectful, Overindulgent and Authoritative. Other authors such as Barbara Coloroso have provided images of each of these parenting styles.

Authoritarian can be considered “brick wall parenting,” rigid, strict and harsh. Neglectful and overindulgent parenting can be viewed as “jellyfish parenting” that involves lack of boundaries, either because a parent lacks the confidence and skills needed to take charge or because he or she is so uninvolved and disengaged as to pay little attention to the structure the children needs. The healthy style, Authoritative, is a blend of both nurture and structure, as Jean Illsley Clarke points out in Growing Up Again. The image Barbara Coloroso uses is one of a backbone that is both flexible and yet is appropriately firm.

Healthy demanding involves knowing that sometimes children must be told what they are expected to do.

  • “You must turn off the TV now and work on your homework .”
  • “You must give back the toy you took from your sister and find something else to play with.”
  • “You need to put your seatbelt on before I start the car.”

When children protest, as they typically will, parents can provide an explanation from a position of strength:

  • You have several assignments that must be done before bedtime.”
  • “Your sister was playing with the toy and the rule in our house is that we ask if we want to play with something someone else has.”
  • “It’s against the law for me to drive the car without everyone safely buckled in.”

Parents cannot expect children to have mature judgment or abilities to control their impulsivity.

Therefore, it is the reason why parents need to know when and how to become the authority.

Many of today’s parenting experts like Dan Siegel, Becky Bailey, and Louis Cozolino, to name a few, use a neuroscientific approach. They help us understand that the cortex is the part of a child’s brain responsible for thinking logically and with good judgment. This cortex is not yet fully developed in children, and therefore sometimes parents must take over when higher-level thinking, planning and self-control is required.

Knowing and accepting your right and responsibility to demand appropriate behaviors of your children from a position of strength (the Authoritative style) and not as a way to flex your parenting muscles (the Authoritarian style), provides a level of safety and security all children need.

Sometimes demanding requires parents to take a deep breath (knowing that just as with denying) when parents make demands of their children, strong protests can result. This is when parents recognize that they aren’t their children’s friends who just want to make them happy. Rather, they are accepting their responsibility to provide the good judgment and impulse control their children lack because of the simple fact that they are children!

Invitation to reflect:

  1. How do you feel about accepting your responsibility to demand things of your child?
  2. How prepared do you feel when inevitable protests occur when you demand certain things of your child?
  3. How helpful is it to visualize that you sometimes need to act as your child’s cortex, the higher part of the brain that involves clear thinking and good judgment?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network


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